Perhaps the single largest source of disputes between contractors and owners during the course of remodeling projects stems from failure to clearly define the scope of work. A well-defined scope:

  • States in detail exactly what the contractor will and will not do;
  • Specifies the exact materials and finishes to be used;
  • Identifies the level of cleanup required each day and at the end of the project;
  • Identifies who will provide debris removal;
  • Identifies who will be responsible for obtaining permits.

Each item represents added costs that will be borne by either the contractor or the owner. It is important to clearly define this allocation in the contract through discussion and communication between the contractor and the owner at the project's outset.

A well-defined scope of work also helps protect the contractor from “scope creep,” helping to prevent disputes with the owner when additional, unanticipated tasks begin to be added to the project. Make sure you include all exclusions in the scope of work in the contract.

It is important that the owner studies the proposal and asks specific questions about what is and is not covered in the bid. Any clarifications or exclusions that are discussed between the owner and contractor should be written directly into the contract.

Often owners are in the position of trying to clearly define a scope of work that they know little or nothing about. In these situations the Internet is a great source of “how-to” information that can educate the owner about the smaller tasks that go into completing the larger task.

Owners should also ask questions about other bids they receive. This frequently results in additional information that he or she can use to help clearly define the scope of work for the selected contractor.

A happy owner can be a great source of future business. By clearly framing the expectations of the owner and contractor at the outset of the project, the likelihood of a “successful” project greatly increases.

—Chris Sobba is a Kansas City, Mo., attorney with Shughart, Thomson & Kilroy P.C., who practices law primarily in the construction litigation field. Reach him at 816.395.0609 or by e-mail at